Within a few years of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus,
the presence and influence of the Catholic Church were already
evident in areas of the “NewWorld” that would eventually become
parts of the United States. The vast lands of what would become
the continental United States were home to Native Americans
as well as Spanish-speaking Catholics in California, Colorado,
Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida, and in parts of Arkansas,
Oklahoma, and the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington.
Similarly, French-speaking Catholics found their home in the huge
territory encompassed by the Louisiana Purchase and also in
the American heartland and the Pacific Northwest, where Native
Americans were evangelized by French Jesuit missionaries. From
the early years of the sixteenth century, Mass was celebrated
in the lands that are now Florida, Texas, and states of the U.S.
Southwest. The first Catholic martyr in this land was a Franciscan
missionary priest, Fr. Juan de Padilla, OFM, who was killed in 1542
because of his evangelization efforts among the natives of Quivira
in what is present-day Kansas.
Not long afterwards, dioceses began to be established in the
lands of the present-day United States. Catholic life, the preaching
of the Gospel, the reception of the Sacraments, the celebration of
the Eucharist, and the teaching and witness of Catholicism also
began to grow in those parts of the continent that would become
the Thirteen Colonies.
By the time Bishop John Carroll was appointed as shepherd to
the nascent Catholic community in the United States (Catholics
numbered about 35,000 in a national population of four mil-
lion), Catholicism was flourishing in many parts of the continent.
Throughout this text we will cite examples of the continuing
religious impact of the nation’s first Catholic generations.
SPANISH, FRENCH, AND NATIVE AMERICAN CATHOLICS
Preface: Our First U.S. Bishop • xi